America's Gulf Disaster: Accidental or Deliberate?
By Stephen Lendman
30 December, 2010
On April 20, an initial explosion, then a larger one ignited BP's Deepwater Horizon platform. For over a day it burned before sinking, killing 11 crew members, releasing thousands of barrels of oil daily, and causing the greatest ever environmental disaster - criminal malfeasance by any standard.
Years from now, its full impact will be known, but already hundreds of thousands of people are harmed, local economies gravely impacted, and large parts of the Gulf contaminated by toxic hydrocarbons and dispersants, making seafood absolutely unsafe to eat.
Obama, administration officials, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and BP executives lied, claiming most oil disappeared, 96% of Gulf waters were safe and reopened, and seafood was safe to eat. False, according to mounting evidence confirming:
-- layers of oil residue contaminating several thousand square miles of seafloor;
-- elevated hydrocarbon levels in Gulf residents' blood, suggesting an epidemic of future illnesses, including cancer and others as lethal;
-- massive dispersants use prevented clean-up by skimming;
-- no practical way now to clean up spilled oil; and
-- dispersants bioaccumulate, making oil toxins more bioavailable to sealife, easier to absorb, and more harmful if ingested.
The effects will linger for decades, maybe generations, making critics wonder if willful intent was involved, given evidence, including:
-- Washington and BP complicity in misreporting, coverup and denying the disaster's severity from start to capping to the most recent disturbing findings;
-- virtual confirmation of the greatest ever environmental crime, contaminating large portions of the Gulf; destroying basic food chain elements that are building blocks for fisheries, birds, sea turtles and mammal populations; polluting coastal shorelines; and causing a massive public health problem with no federal aid to inform and mitigate;
-- irreparable harm to the lives and livelihoods of potentially millions of Gulf residents; and
-- BP's history of violations, exposing the industry's worst safety, maintenance, and environmental record, yet nearly always able to escape with small fines, penalties and settlements; no prosecutions; no pressure to operate responsibly; and no curtailment of government-let contracts, so no reason not to continue business as usual.
Yet after BP declared the Macondo well dead last September, the event died with it, disappearing from major media reports that were complicit with BP and Obama officials by misreporting it from the start.
No wonder critics ask: was Macondo's blowout accidental or willful? Was deliberate sabotage involved? Were the Obama administration and BP complicit in the greatest ever environmental crime with enormous global consequences? If so, why?
A November report showed BP ignored warning signs and used inadequate procedures to secure Macondo's integrity. Jointly prepared by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and National Research Council (NRC), it said:
"failures and missed indications of hazards were not isolated events during the preparation of the Macondo well for temporary abandonment. Numerous (faulty) decisions (preceded) abandonment despite indications of hazards, such as the results of repeated negative-pressure tests, suggest an insufficient consideration of risk and a lack of operating discipline."
As a result, safety was virtually ignored, including employee warnings that Macondo was a disaster waiting to happen. Moreover, the report found BP used only six centralizers (well casing centering devices in the wellbore) even though "modeling results suggested that many more (were) needed."
BP also didn't incorporate a "float shoe" at the well casing bottom - a devise containing a check valve to automatically activate in case of emergency. It's a vital extra precaution not used. In addition, BP chose not to remove drilling mud without first installing a "lockdown sleeve" on the production casing's wellhead seals. It would have protected against shifting position built up pressure.
The Interior Department's Minerals Management Service, its regulatory arm, was also cited for "not hav(ing) formal training and certification....for its inspectors." It means incompetents, not professionals, were in charge, leaving BP unregulated despite its poor safety, maintenance and environmental record - a red flag begging for close monitoring.
Most important is that longstanding safe operating practices would have prevented disaster, yet BP ignored them. Minimally, willful negligence should be charged. However, deliberate malfeasance is more accurate, revealing a manufactured crime for corporate gain despite short-term costs. Obvious red flags included:
-- suspicious BP stock transactions;
-- CEO Tony Hayward sold about one-third of his holdings weeks before the explosion;
-- Goldman Sachs sold BP stock worth over $250 million in Q I 2010, 44% of its investment: what did they, not the public, know? - and
-- Enormous Big Oil/Wall Street pressure was exerted to enact Obama-supported cap and trade legislation; after House passage, it stalled in the Senate.
The bill would have let corporate polluters reap huge windfall profits by charging consumers more for energy, and also create a new bubble through carbon trading derivatives speculation.
It was about profits, not environmental protection, especially a potential $10 trillion market for derivatives speculation, a plum needing an environment crisis to enact, like last summer's salmonella scare. It provided impetus for lame duck session passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act - a food tyranny measure, benefitting agribusiness at the expense of small farmers and consumers.
Cap and trade is a stealth scheme to license pollution, raise energy prices, and provide a huge bonanza through carbon trading derivatives speculation. Corporate interests badly want it. It remains if the 112th Congress will oblige.
New York Times Deepwater Horizon Information
On December 25, writers David Barstow, David Rohde and Stephanie Saul headlined, "Deepwater Horizon's Final Hours," saying:
Months after the disaster, "Investigators have dissected BP's well design and Halliburton's cementing work, uncovering problem after problem." Besides attention on the failed blowout protector (BOP), the explosion "escaped intense scrutiny, as if" one problem caused the other. False.
Deepwater Horizon "had formidable and redundant defenses against even the worst blowout. It was equipped to divert surging oil and gas safely away from the rig. It had devices to quickly seal off a well blowout or to break free from it. It had systems to prevent gas from exploding and sophisticated alarms that would quickly warn the crew at the slightest trace of gas." The crew practiced responding to alarms, fires and blowouts, and "it was blessed with experienced leaders who clearly cared about safety."
In fact, Deepwater Horizon's disaster shouldn't have happened, yet it did. Why suggests willful malfeasance, given the huge profit potential involved, as explained above. Eleven lost lives, many injuries, billions in cost affecting one quarter only, a contaminated Gulf, and potentially millions of harmed coastal residents are inconsequential by comparison.
Based on interviews with 21 crew members, documents The Times obtained, sworn testimonies, and written statements from nearly all rig survivors, a disturbing picture emerges, especially a singular fact:
Crew members "died and suffered terrible injuries because every one of the Horizon's defenses failed on April 20," a near-impossibility, but it happened. "Some were deployed but did not work. Some were activated too late, after they had almost certainly been damaged by fire or explosions. Some were never deployed at all."
Everything that could go wrong did. Decisive steps weren't taken. Communications "fell apart." Warning signs were missed or weren't heeded, and "crew members in critical areas failed to coordinate a response." Paralysis, breakdown, and disaster resulted. "For many, the first hint of crisis came in the form of a blast wave."
Yet crew members weren't trained or prepared to handle worst type crises. Why not is key for Mocondo, what workers called a "well from hell," plagued by problems. "Heavy drilling fluid, called mud, kept disappearing into formation cracks. Less mud meant less weight bearing down on the oil and gas that were surging up. This set off violent 'kicks' of gas and oil that sent the (rig's team) scrambling to control the well."
In March, trouble halted operations for nine days. It was a hint of worse to come, and just a matter of time before occurring. Management should have taken extra precautions. Failure begs the question. Why not? Instead of instituting fail safe measures, they were systematically avoided. "In effect, they were daring the well to blow out." On April 20, it obliged.
What shouldn't and under safe operating conditions couldn't happen, in fact, did. Once the BOP failed, nothing stopped oil and gas from "racing up the Horizon's riser pipe. Nine minutes later came the first explosion."
The crew trained for blowouts. Procedure called for "quickly installing a special valve on the drill pipe....Only minutes before the blowout, the drill shack" got "puzzling pressure readings" and sensed trouble. "The industry (long believed) BOPs were 'the ultimate fail-safe' " device.
Transocean said Horizon's BOP couldn't prevent blowouts this extreme. However, evidence shows poor maintenance crippled it. Its problems included dead batteries, bad solenoid valves, and leaking hydraulic lines. None should have happened, and all could have easily been fixed.
Yet they were "overlooked and ignored." Willful negligence or criminal malfeasance? Either way is damning, especially for an industry major with decades of expertise. Failure was inexcusable, suggesting willful intent.
"Transocean (also) never performed an expensive 90-day maintenance inspection that the manufacturer said should be done every three to five years." So do industry and federal regulations.
Despite two explosions, Horizon still shouldn't have sunk. Disconnecting the rig from the BOP would have cut off the fire's main fuel source, giving rig and crew a fighting chance. Witnesses differ on details, but agree on one basic point: "even with Horizon burning, powerless and gutted by explosions, there was still resistance to the strongest possible measure that might save the rig."
However, Horizon's "death knell....was the emergency disconnect system itself. Like so many of the rig's defenses, it failed" for unexplained reasons. "Horizon was still handcuffed to the well from hell." Evacuating fast was essential.
Major unaddressed problems, initial explosions, subsequent small ones, intense heat, and poor evacuation drills left 11 crew members dead. Their epitaph should indict BP officials and complicit Obama officials for homicide. Justice demands holding them accountable.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.